All family historians use the census, and most of us find most of what we want, most of the time. This is of course due to the fact that every census for England and Wales has been indexed; sometimes you even have a number of versions to choose from, so if you don’t find a person on one website, you might find them on another. Where the handwriting is hard to read, it all comes down to interpretation.
But sometimes, despite your best efforts, a person or a family stubbornly refuses to be found. You might even have tried searching for them ‘the old-fashioned way’. That is, searching by address, assuming you have some indication of where they were living at the time of the census, and that they either lived in a village or there is a street index for their town. That was the usual way of finding someone in the census until just over a decade ago.
If you have exhausted all the possibilities of using name indexes, including possible mis-spellings and mis-transcriptions, you are left with a dwindling number of possibilities, which fall into three catagories:
- They are there, you just can’t see them
- They are missing from the census altogether
- They are, or rather were, in the census but in a part of it that has since gone missing Continue reading »
Where has this year gone?!
It only seems a short time ago that we held the last annual Gerald Aylmer seminar and now we’re already well underway organising the 2013 event.
Networking at the Gerald Aylmer seminar 2012
Next year’s seminar will focus on the theme of Material Culture.
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On the 27 January 1916 the Military Service Act came into force in the United Kingdom (except Ireland), making every unmarried male aged between 18 and 41 (who was not in a reserved occupation) eligible for conscription into the armed forces.
Example of a certificate
Men could apply to their local military tribunals for some manner of exemption based on a variety of grounds. Many men subsequently appealed this local tribunal decision, with appeal hearings held at County Appeal tribunals. After the war it was decided that only a sample of records from the Central Tribunal in London and the papers from the Middlesex County Appeal tribunal should be kept as a benchmark for England and Wales. It is these papers which make up record series MH 47 here at The National Archives.
These papers contain a wealth of personal information relating to the applicants, their jobs and their families. Currently the collection is underused due to its complex arrangement and convoluted indexing system. By making these papers name searchable and providing digital access we are hoping to open up these records to a much wider audience and open up another valuable First World War resource to those who have been frustrated in their search for a military service record.
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In computing, emulation is the practice of creating a virtual environment in order to replicate a different, usually older computer system. I first encountered emulation in the 1990s, when I chanced upon a community of Sinclair enthusiasts who had created an emulator for my beloved ZX Spectrum. I could play the games of my childhood again! In the wider world, emulation has practical applications for computer science and digital preservation.
Microsoft Dos 6.22, Windows 3.11, and Word for Windows disks
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During October 2012, the 60th anniversary of the train disaster at Harrow and Wealdstone in October 1952 has been commemorated. This was a truly horrific accident; a total of 112 people lost their lives, and 88 required hospital treatment.
At 08.19 on 8 October 1952 three trains collided with one another at Harrow and Wealdstone Train Station, some 11 miles to the north of Euston Station in London. One of the trains was a local passenger service taking early morning commuters from Tring to Euston, and the other was a passenger service from Perth to Euston. A third train, the 08.00 express travelling from Euston to Liverpool and Manchester ploughed into the wreckage created by the initial collision of the trains travelling from Perth and Tring.
Photograph of the crash site in MEPO 11/95
A combination of poor weather (patchy fog), misread signals and inadequate equipment led to a disaster that was only exceeded in scale by the disaster at Gretna Green in 1915, when 227 persons, mostly soldiers heading to the Front, were killed. The carnage of Harrow and Wealdstone can be comprehended if one considers the effects of a crowded passenger train (the Liverpool express) steaming into the shattered remnants of trains already wrecked and with their passengers and their effects strewn across lines. One disaster fed into another disaster. The casualty figures, high enough, would have been higher still were it not for the swift attention of passing detachments of the United States Air Force, who rushed to the scene of the disaster and applied life-saving field techniques learnt in wartime.
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These people are 'archivally intelligent'. Are you?
My inspiration for today’s blog post comes from three things that I’ve been involved with over the past few weeks.
The first was helping to teach on a training course run by the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management about using archives. The second was taking part in our new ‘live chat’ service. Both of these set me thinking about the kinds of advice that I give people daily as part of my job. The third was that, alongside other members of the Cardigan Continuum reading group, I read an article by two American archivists, Elizabeth Yakel and Deborah Torres . I found that this provided a useful structure for my thoughts.
Yakel and Torres explore what it means to be an expert user of archives and identify three distinct kinds of user-expertise, which they call subject knowledge, artifactual literacy and archival intelligence. In this post, I’ve interpreted these three in my own way. Continue reading »
Much of the information stored in the workplace holds some information about who created it automatically stored in its metadata. In Office applications this is usually applied through Active Directory (AD) – the permissions and access tool. What AD often doesn’t know is a person’s job description or title and so over time the names of people associated with your content becomes meaningless.
Organograms (maps that display the structure of an organisation) show us who carries out the organisation’s functions, their formal relationships with others. This can provide a conceptual aid in the classification and discovery of content and data over time.
Using content analytics tools that offer text-mining and machine learning technology (artificial intelligence) we can identify, structure and enrich information, facts and events and enable top-level classification. These tools can support records managers, archivists, historians and social researchers as they explore and discover meaning in our information overload.
Organograms stored as data files (see data.gov.uk/organogram for a good example of this) and maintained over time as a living record of the organisation’s functions and who was responsible for carrying them out, can link these forgotten people to your business’ actual functions.
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September 1752 was a very short month. In fact, it was 11 days shorter than the average September, to bring the United Kingdom into line with most of the rest of Europe. In fact, there were three separate calendars in use in 18th century Europe; Catholic states had generally adopted the new (and astronomically more accurate) Gregorian calendar in place of the Julian calendar the 16th century, Protestant states took it up in the 18th century while the Orthodox Christian countries of Russia, Greece and the Balkan states did not come into line until the early 20th century.
This can lead to misunderstandings over dates in historical documents, especially before September 1752. In that year, 2 September was immediately followed by 14 September, which must have caused some difficulty for anyone for whom one of the ‘missing’ days had some significance, like a birthday or a legal contract. As well as the loss of 11 days to bring the days into line with those countries already using the Gregorian calendar, the other major change adopted was that the start of the year was now 1 January, and not 25 March, or Lady Day.
Independent chapel Wrentham, Suffolk: baptism register
If you look at early church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials you can easily see when the new year begins, as in this example from the baptism register of the Independent chapel at Wrentham, Suffolk. But if you see a reference just to a single entry dated between 1 January and 24 March, perhaps on a family tree, it might not be obvious whether the date is exactly as it appears in the register, or has been adjusted to conform with the Gregorian calendar. This is where the ‘double-dating’ comes in. To avoid any ambiguity, the correct way to express one of these dates is in the format ‘20 March 1698/99’. This register also provides an interesting example of ‘double-dating’ at the bottom of the page, in acknowledgement of the fact that there was an alternative system of dating in existence.
From 14 September onwards dating is a much simpler business, but there was still scope for confusion. Countries where Orthodox Christianity prevailed continued to use their own calendar for much longer, so dates of events taking place in those countries need to be treated with care. Registers of British consulates and churches in those countries habitually used both dates for events registered there, such as this entry from the register of the British consulate in St Petersburg recording the death of Henry Thornley, who died on 19 or 31 March 1872. Continue reading »
Not long after I joined The National Archives someone asked me whether I thought there was any point archiving the ‘job vacancies’ or ‘careers’ sections of government websites. The person who asked felt these sections contained current information which would not be of interest once the posts advertised had been filled. As someone with an interest in both family and social history I disagreed. Although the ‘current vacancies’ section of a website archived 18 months ago probably would not be the most popular resource, I believe that this and other content related to work and employment captured in the web archive will be invaluable to the historians of the future.
The world of work is hugely important to family and social historians. A person’s job can tell us a great deal about their life. It can indicate their status in society, what quality of life they had and how educated they were, amongst other things. Most family historians researching in the UK will first find out about the occupations of their ancestors from a few words on a birth, marriage or death certificate or from a census return. Sometimes it is fairly obvious what the job entailed: my own family tree features a bus driver, a chauffeur, a cricket ball maker and a vast number of agricultural labourers, but some are more of a puzzle . The first image below is taken from my grandparents’ 1941 marriage certificate. My grandmother’s father’s occupation is given as ‘Carter’. A quick poll of colleagues in my office (none of whom are family history experts, I hasten to add) demonstrated that none of them knew what being a carter would entail. Continue reading »
Image from Stephen P. Anderson's Poster from IA Summit 2009
As many of you may know, The National Archives has launched a beta product called Discovery. Discovery is not only a replacement for our current catalogue, but it will eventually provide a platform to enable searching across the many different databases and datasets held at the archives.
The aim of Discovery is to create an effective and enjoyable user interface through an understanding of who our customers are: their tasks, expectations, capabilities, limitations, preferences and context of use. The best interfaces are known to not only support goals and tasks but also recommend interactions that extends users’ activity in ways that makes their journey more effective and satisfying.
To achieve this, our design and development process has involved users from outset and where feasible, as active participants. We have used multiple methods over the last few years, such as interviews, diary studies, surveys, workshops, focus groups, web log analysis and user testing to acquire understanding and empathy towards the needs of our customers.
Graph showing research strategies: Christian Rohrer 2008
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